by James Jordan
The Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ) has received alarming information from the Bogotá-based Lazos de Dignidad (Links of Dignity) concerning human rights defender, unionist and former political prisoner Liliany Obando. Since her March 1 release from jail, Obando has on several occasions been followed and photographed by unknown persons. Colombia’s largest newspaper, El Tiempo, has also published an article “identifying” Obando as a member of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia)–even though neither they nor the Colombian government can produce credible proof of this allegation. Such allegations represent a well-known tactic of intimidation and repression used by corporate media and members of the Colombian government to stigmatize and endanger human rights defenders. These kinds of accusations are often followed by attempts against the lives of those being targete! d.
The developments concerning Ms. Obando are especially worrisome given recent threats by the Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles) paramilitary death squad against both Colombian and international activists. The Aguilas Negras issued a threat against all persons, including international guests, who attended the recent Colombia Behind Bars Forum: In Search of a Pathway to Freedom and Peace. Lazos de Dignidad were among major co-sponsors of the forum, as well as Colombians for Peace, coordinated by ex-Senator Piedad Córdoba. Obando received legal support from Lazos de Dignidad and has worked closely with both Lazos and the International Network in Solidarity with the Political Prisoners (INSPP). On February 27th, the Aguilas Negras also issued a threat against 15 Colombian activists, most of them women.
The organization Somos Defensores (We Are Defenders) announced findings on March 4th that the number of threats and attacks against human rights defenders in Colombia is at its most in ten years–worse than at the height of the administration of former President Álvaro Uribe. According to Somos Defensores, there were attacks against 239 human rights defenders in Colombia last year and, “On average, a defender was attacked every 36 hours and one of these was assassinated every 8 days….Of the total of registered cases, 50% were committed presumably by paramilitary groups.”
Obando was released from prison on March 1st of this year, after 3 1/2 years of incarceration. She was released because her court process had exceeded the legal limit for keeping her in jail without a resolution of her case. However, charges have not been dropped against her, and she could be re-incarcerated at any moment.
The main body of evidence against Obando are files said to have been recovered from computers belonging to FARC Comandante Raul Reyes, who was one of more than 20 persons killed in a bombing of his camp by the Colombian military. Reyes was the FARC’s top peace negotiator and the camp was involved in working out terms of release for Ingrid Betancourt and three US captives. The evidence contained in the computers cannot be authenticated and police officials have admitted in court that files were manipulated. In May, the Colombian Supreme Court ruled that this evidence, which was being used in investigations against Obando and several members of the political opposition, was not admissible. Ironically, Obando was released on the 4th anniversary of the bombing.
During Obando’s incarceration, she continued to advocate for human rights and spoke out frequently and prominently in defense of Colombia’s political prisoners and in favor of a political solution to the armed, social and political conflicts. Despite her being in jail, she continued to work with groups on the outside, such as the INSPP, in defense of political prisoners.
Since her release, Obando and persons accompanying her have repeatedly witnessed unknown persons following and photographing her and her family. AFGj is especially concerned for Ms. Obando’s safety given the high profile nature of her case; the unfounded and baseless accusations made by El Tiempo; the worsening context of threats and violence against human rights defenders; and the pointed threats by the Aguilas Negros against those who participated in the Colombia Behind Bars Forum.
Lazos de Dignidad has circulated a release calling on the Colombian government to “…take effective and urgent measures aimed at guaranteeing and protecting the fundamental and human rights of the human rights defender Liliany Patricia Obando Villota and the members of her family.” They are also calling on the national Ombudsman to “…give information as to whether there exists an order of surveillance” against Obando. Lazos de Dignidad has called for the vigilance and solidarity of the international community.
AFGJ is asking supporters in the United States to contact the Colombian embassy and/or local consulates to ask that Obando’s rights be respected and that measures be taken for the safety and protection of Ms. Obando and her family. The Colombian embassy can be reached by email at embassyofcolombia@colombiaemb.